Welcome to the thirteenth issue of the Pervasive Labour Union zine! Much delayed, the preparation of this issue was one of the most labour intensive and interrupted by unforeseen obligations so far; from lost databases to moving houses, I've had it all.
And so, it is with great pleasure and a significant degree of relief that I announce that the issue on federated social networks is finally out.
The history of the Fediverse1 is complex and full of nuance. Within the context of this editor's note I have, however, too little space to recount it all in vivid detail. As such, here is a short summary I have compiled to the best of my abilities:
According to a "People's History of the Federation"2 and "A Quick Guide to the Free Network"3, this is an history that begins with the StatusNet4 platform being established around 2008. The protocol implemented in order to achieve communication between servers and projects was OStatus5. Eventually StatusNet split into pump.io6 and GNUSocial7, the latter which was forked into postActiv8. In 2016, the now popular microblogging project Mastodon9 joined the Fediverse game.
Running parallel to these developments, the macroblogging social network Diaspora10 appeared in 2010. While Diaspora has its own federation protocol (diaspora), macroblogging social networking projects such as Friendica11, Hubzilla12 and Socialhome13 have also implemented it. Of these, Friendica and Hubzilla have also implemented the OStatus and ActivityPub14 protocols.
Nowadays, the Fediverse is expanding as more and more of these projects are implementing ActivityPub as one of their federation protocols. However still limited by how the protocol is implemented by the project's developers, these developments allow for the federated constellation to grow and promise to offer users a bigger choice, not only regarding which software to use - Pleroma15, Mastodon or both? -, but also regarding which instance/s (i.e.: servers running the software) to sign up for.
When the open call for the current issue was launched, I formulated some questions. An updated list of these follows:
- What are the requirements of a 'true' alternative?
- Which protocols can and are being developed to achieve interoperability between the different alternatives?
- How are these protocols being implemented? Who is behind their development?
- What are the social, economical and political forces at play within this realm and how to engage with them?
- How do questions of scale, trust and governance influence the development of these projects?
There are still, of course, many unanswered concerns, unsolved complexity, nuances, discussions, debates and disagreements.
Still embedded within capitalist power structures, the development of alternative social networking infrastructures without intersectional anti-capitalist politics and militancy will only further reproduce systemic power imbalances. Failing to account for governance structures and the "social" in social networking - who gets to make decisions? who gets to participate? who gets to participate in decision making? etc -, these hopeful developments will never be more than techno-solutionist fantasy.
To help us further navigate these topics, I am very happy to present this issue's contributors:
Martin Schotten was inspired by his positive first experience on Mastodon to produce a visual poem, "short like a toot" (for those not in the know, a toot is a post on Mastodon).
Eliot Berriot, developer and project maintainer of Funkwhale16, focuses his contribution on the need for democratic governance when developing alternative social media projects, an hard to tackle but urgent matter that goes beyond the technical and pragmatic aspects of building trustworthy alternative tools.
Luke Murphy's contribution addresses the ActivityPub protocol in more detail, especially some of the criticism it faces for ambiguous specifications regarding issues of security, which results in privacy and trust concerns that AP developers have been trying to address.
Eugen Rochko, Mastodon's creator who is also a developer and maintainer of the project, makes the case for decentralized networks, stressing their better capacity to adapt, foster diversity, escape censorship and challenge power asymmetries.
Julia Janssen's concerns with the ever expanding impact of the multi-billion dollar data business on people's everyday lives led her to practically investigate ownership over own's personal data by creating a system called 'data stocks', as well as developing an experimental installation comprising games, experiments and visuals called The Attention Fair.
Gui Machiavelli's networked fever dream takes the reader on a vivid, sensorial journey through the federated digital and all that lies in between, on top of, next to, inside and outside of, etc.
A piece of mail art arrives to us from Inge Hoonte in the Netherlands and Louisa Bufardeci in Australia, inviting us to experiment and play with established protocols.
Partido Interdimensional Pirata invites us to apostatize from 'asocial networks of mass-surveillance', proposing different strategies, approaches, solutions and alternatives in order to achieve this.
And, last but not least, Silvio Lorusso's report of a conversation between Roel Roscam Abbing and Florian Cramer about federated publishing highlights the nuanced history and development of Mastodon's techno-social infrastructure, as Abbing and Cramer discuss its communities and respective codes of conduct, the political ambiguity of safe spaces, what privacy means within this context and other issues such as governance and underrepresented communities in free software projects.
Eliot Berriot, Eugen Rochko, Gui Machiavelli, Inge Hoonte and Louisa Bufardeci, Julia Janssen, Luke Murphy, Martin Schotten, Partido Interdimensional Pirata, Silvio Lorusso
All contributions to the zine, unless otherwise specified, are licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License 1.317.
Eliot Berriot's contribution is licensed under CC-018.
For Julia Janssen's contribution, the following should be applied:
"Copyright (C) 2019, Julia Janssen
Permission is granted to copy and distribute this document. Under the terms of the GNU Free document License, Version 1.3 Or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation"
Partido Interdimensional Pirata's contribution is licensed under the Peer Production License19.
16: "Funkwhale is a community-driven project that lets you listen and share music and audio within a decentralized, open network." see: https://funkwhale.audio/